Archive for RXbirdwalk

On the move

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 18, 2017 by cliffdean

On the Winchelsea Beach seawall, as we set off last Saturday, we were passed by constant flocks of Goldfinches which often fluttered down onto the roadside teasels. And if you turned your head in the other direction you could see Gannets gliding and diving on the horizon while from overhead came the trilling of Skylarks making landfall. I had made this walk a couple of times already in the last week and was surprised at how much had changed: the numbers of Chiffchaffs had decreased and House Martins, so very numerous before, were entirely absent, both species having plainly made their way south.

Among the passing Goldfinches we could often hear Siskins and Redpolls. While the former stayed in the air we were lucky to have good views of the latter as they alighted in bushes on the Beach Field. This is more than can be said for the several Goldcrests we came across, which typically hid in high canopy, showing mostly in silhouette.

The Fairy-ring Field by Castle Farm held its usual crowd of Pied Wagtails and just after one of the group asked if it were too late for Yellow Wagtails, two of them appeared – quite late in the season – both washed-out looking juveniles. Towards the Castle we found a couple of Stonechats though no Curlews or Egyptian Geese.

As we approached Castle Water, something greatly disturbed the birds upon it, which rose up in a great honking of Greylags and a range of ducks disappearing into the distance so we prepared to be disappointed but, whatever had caused the panic, things had settled down by the time we got into the hide. As usual there were hundreds of birds though not the range of waders there has been, nor the celebrated Little Gull. We did, though, have excellent views of hunting Marsh Harrier and a more distant Buzzard.

On the way back we ran into a Treecreeper on one of the big, gnarled willows in The Wood and at the southern end of The Ocean found a Great Egret feeding alongside a few Littles, providing a useful direct comparison of size, structure and stance.

As usual we saw a good range of species, numbering 67.

 

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On the wire

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 4, 2017 by cliffdean

Encouraged by reports and photos like that above, taken by Tim Waters in the Brede Valley (it shows Whinchats, a Stonechat & a Spotted Flycatcher all on the same bit of fence), I decided that Combe Haven, a similarly rough river valley would offer similar species and therefore be a good venue for Sunday’s RXbirdwalk. It’s rare that these ideas work out exactly (see “It’s Not A Zoo”), the weather was dull and cool, the few warblers shy and hard to see.

Things began to look up as we heard Greenshank calls coming from the attenuation pond down the Powdermill Valley and once we got down there we had good views of 2 of them flying low over the water among a flurry of Sand Martins. Other species occupying the shallow, weedy water were Grey Heron, Cormorant, Little Grebe, Mallard, Gadwall, Mute Swan, Moorhen & Coot. The otherwise silent tree cover across the stream suddenly burst into life at Adam’s Farm when a tribe of Long-tailed Tits passed through, drawing in its wake Great & Blue Tits, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and a couple of Spotted Flycatchers.

Further on, the cluster of bushes beneath the old railway embankment was busily clicking with Blackcap contact notes. They were difficult to see as they dashed across small gaps and over our heads, along with other fleet passerines but what at first had seemed a couple of birds was probably nearer twenty. We also had good views of Lesser Whitethroat and less good ones of a young Bullfinch which kept popping up.

Along the river bank we finally ran into a group of 4+ Whinchats in instructively varied plumage, along with Common Whitethroats and resolutely hidden Chiffchaffs & Willow Warblers. The useful-comparison Stonechats came later as we joined the Greenway by Acton’s Farm: a smart juvenile and an exceedingly threadbare, tailless, moulting male.

Those ex-grazing meadows south of the Link road embankment are part of the SSSI but have not been managed for years and are degenerating into willow scrub. No-one wants to take responsibility for them or even seems to know who owns them, while my emails to Natural England in Lewes have gone unanswered. Left for much longer they will cost a fortune to get back in good condition.

The wooded parts of Royal Oak Lane are not usually very productive but upon stopping to listen for Treecreeper we found ourselves looking (albeit vertically) at a Firecrest and then the twitten dropping back down to the Plough was busier than I’ve ever seen it, with Great, Blue, Coal & Long-tailed Tits, Blackcaps, Goldcrests, GS Woodpecker, Nuthatch & Treecreeper.

Altogether we saw 56 species.

Otto Dix: Totentanz

Hill of Prumes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 28, 2017 by cliffdean

Looks boring, doesn’t it? Nobody goes there. In other words the quintessential venue for an RXbirdwalk. Broomhill; where’s the hill, where’s the broom? Though the latter might once have grown here, a hill is hard to imagine let alone a bustling fishing port – which it was until 1287. According to Judith Glover’s “Sussex Place Names” the earliest version of the name, dating from the late 12th century, is Prumhelle, from Prume-hyll “Plum-tree Hill” – but using an unusual dialect word rather than the South Saxon plume. That’s got that cleared up, but still no sign of a hill, let alone plum trees.

I guess the hill could have been a tall shingle bank, since truncated by the 1287 storm among others. On the soil map below you can see the settlement’s position on a spur to the south of the great (yellow) sweep of the Wainway. The remaining farm buildings and an abandoned cottage are perched on the pink band of shingle to the right.

The plan for this RXbirdwalk was to see breeding Yellow Wagtails, restricted in Sussex to this eastern extremity. Though weather mid-week suggested we’d run the risk of heat-stroke the morning itself dawned gloomy and windy, though the rain held off till midday. I usually have a look at the beach to add a few gulls & waders to the list but on this occasion all birds had been cleared out by massed kite-surfers thrashing through the grey summer waves.

This & other bird photos by Peter Matthews

There were indeed loads of  Yellow Wagtails and loads of Reed Buntings too, though the former favoured wheat and the latter oilseed rape. Last year the YWs were in the same location among beans, leading me to mistakenly assume that the crop was the significant factor whereas I now suspect it’s something to do with the soil since nearly all wagtails were situated between the former seawalls (now ploughed out) in the soil map below. As much as I love this map’s pretty colours and historic boundaries I can’t claim to understand much about the soil, I’m sorry to say.

These RSPB articles on their Breeding Ecology and Advice to Farmers are informative

While we were differentiating males, females and juveniles, a strikingly different male popped up then vanished again. It had a blue head – like the continental subspecies but of a pale blue-grey hue and with a white supercilium, suggesting the hybrid “Channel Wagtail” but I just didn’t get a good enough view.

There were plenty of other birds around, including Skylarks, Linnets & a pair of Corn Buntings as well as big crowds of House Sparrows & Starlings commuting between the interwar bungalows of Jury’s Gap and the fragrant sewage works. In the background, a pair of Marsh Harriers were quartering the fields. There were, of course, no other people around apart from two horse-riders and a distant dog-walker.

Just to the east of this chainlink fence, below the crops, below the soil, lie the remains of Broomhill’s church whose skeleton still stood into the early 16th century though flooded centuries before.

Beside Jury’s Gut loafed a few moulting Mallards in company with a small, dark duck with a clearly yellow bill. In size, shape and flight appearance it resembled a teal of some sort and upon reference to some more expert observers turned out to be – wait for it – a Yellow-billed Teal which now seems to be regarded as a geographical race of Speckled Teal, a South American species escaped from a collection.

As we approached the Kent Pen Wall, a Cuckoo flew over us then while we had a look along the sheltered and scrubby north side of the bank for Whitethroats & Linnets I took notice of the tree species for the first time. Beside two species of Willow, a hunched Oak and a fluttering White Poplar I was surprised to see a fruit tree – bearing, in fact, unripe…plums! Hardly possible it could remain from Prume hyll days, perhaps planted as an historical reference or jettisoned from a picnic. Strange coincidence though. Further along was a flowering Privet.

A further revelation came as we continued westward into the wind and towards Corn Bunting song. An isolated pond fits neatly, on the map,  into the vanished repair loop on a lost seawall; an ancient scour pool now tranquil enough but a relic of drama, danger and fortitude from the past.

In the shade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 21, 2017 by cliffdean

On Sunday, shadow falling from the park’s tall trees cast a welcome cool on a day of mounting heat. Although at 9 Hastings was still pretty quiet, traffic noise built up as visitors poured into the town and after a while the detection of birdsong was enhanced by the identification by sound of arriving motorcycles.

There was a remarkable amount of song – a lot of Wrens especially (and they always make themselves heard) – but also Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Woodpigeons, Blackcaps & Chiffchaffs. A lot of Goldcrests too; we weren’t counting but it would have been interesting to have done so. My theory that the winter’s Firecrests might have stayed on to breed met with no support even after lengthy listening-in around ostensibly suitable habitats.

Caucasian Wing-nut – part of a shady stand of suckers by Shornden Reservoir

We spent a bit of time trying to identify trees. Out in the woods this is not too demanding but in this park it definitely is, thanks to the presence of about 400 different types, including forms & cultivars. As we moved around we passed through zones of musty perfume from flowering laurels.

The ponds provided interest not only from lazily cruising Carp but also a variety of spectacular dragonflies such as Emperor & Broad-bodied Chaser. At Buckshole Reservoir a Grey Wagtail seemed to be nesting in the concrete outflow structure and on Shornden the local Herring Gulls and a few Black-headed were joined by one Lesser Black-back.

From this open vantage point, a flock of Swifts could be seen wheeling over Bohemia.

 

8 & 7

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 16, 2017 by cliffdean

On Friday of last week we had a walk in the Salehurst area with two principal objectives, namely a search for singing Firecrests and lunch at the Salehurst Halt. Both were achieved, with silvery songs from 8 of the former shimmering down from sombre stands of Western Hemlock, which seems to be their preferred breeding habitat in this area (where Goldcrests share the same sites, yet in other habitats eg Scots Pine only Goldcrests can be heard). Altogether we saw 44 bird species, including several new to the list since previous visits have been in winter, and one very interesting chair – an industrial design classic languishing in deep woodland.

The following day, the RXbirdwalk from Pebsham over into the Combe Valley Countryside Park reached as far north as the attenuation pond to the north of the BHLR, following reports on FB of up to 4 Hobbies. In warm sunshine we counted and recounted until 7 were in view at once, performing breath-taking aerobatics right in front of us in their pursuit of hapless flying insects. Although we’ve seen Hobbies on previous RXbirdwalks – in fact 40 of them once at Dengemarsh – these were the best views ever (and i can remember the days when Hobbies were scarce).

Dengemarsh

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 1, 2017 by cliffdean

For the previous couple of days, the forecast for Sunday had been one of uniterrupted sunshine, so I was a bit surprised, on arriving at Lydd, to note that the layer of cloud, rather than burning off, had formed a southern horizon smooth and livid with the promise of heavy rain. A check of the radar map showed a band as colourful as a bad bruise heading our way and by the time the last RXbirdwalker had arrived our various rain-avoidance strategies had been reduced by the first heavy drops and the flicker of lightning to Plan A i.e. sit it out in the car. Accuweather assured us that “rain would cease in 18 minutes”, which it did, upon which we proceeded down a deeply puddled Dengemarsh Road to Springfield Bridge.

As always, this approach allows a scan of the water and reeds, where, in addition to the usual waterfowl, we could see good numbers of Common Terns & Common Gulls and a brilliantly-lit f Marsh Harrier.While differentiating between songs of Reed & Sedge Warblers some Bearded Tits came flying past and then remained close to us, giving excellent close views. Much is the time we’ve wasted in the past, hoping for a brief glimpse of this bird, but here they were, almost as real as a photograph and pinging away loudly to imprint their call on those who didn’t already know it.

There were a lot of flowers and insects along the path too, and the yodelling of a territorial Redshank close by.

Four-spotted Chaser (and other wildlife photos)  by Stuart Barnes

Grass Vetchling

From the Dengemarsh Hide we looked out upon a raft on which were nesting several pairs of Common Terns, uneasy since accompanied by a pair of Herring Gulls. Ducking the dives of optimistic terns, the male HG sat patiently, awaiting the hatching of tern chicks which would provide a convenient buffet for its own young. An adjacent raft accommodated terns and a Common Gull, which appeared to co-exist peacefully. So far anyway.

It had become pretty windy as we approached the Viewpoint, when a brown bird appeared quite high up, approaching from ARC direction – a Bittern! – but dropped down before everyone could catch sight of it. From the mound we enjoyed more great views of both male & female Marsh Harriers, a few Swifts & House Martins and a rather more distant 2 Hobbies – fewer than expected but we did get a closer look later. A Common Whitethroat also sat up close by, prompting a sortie down as far as Christmas Dell where a Lesser Whitethroat was singing, in order to enjoy the comparison (and escape the wind). Well, we had an excellent opportunity to get used to its rattling song and could see exactly where it was – a couple of metres away in tall scrub – but just could not get a look at it – couldn’t even pick out its movements. As I always say, “It’s not a zoo.”

 

In twilight

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 27, 2017 by cliffdean

I was quite relieved the other evening, to pick out a fragment of Nightingale song to one side of the birds on which we were focusing. By late May they tend to have quietened down but I’d been away or too occupied with other things to lead a walk any earlier in the month. Earlier in the month, indeed, in places where the idea of actually leading a walk to hear this ubiquitous songster would have seemed absurd – like mounting an expedition to hear a Blackbird.

But this is England, where the hope of hearing a Nightingale – south-eastern and getting scarcer – makes a good core objective around which can be wrapped the many other delights of a woodland dusk like songs, scents, stars and silhouettes.

Starting among tall trees, we were surrounded by the rich song of Blackcap, Blackbird, Song Thrush & Wren, with the tiny sound of a Goldcrest high up in Scots Pines. Then a nervous GS Woodpecker which eventually led us to its nest of cheeping chicks, and out onto the north end of Sedlescombe Heath with its burbling Garden Warblers, distant Cuckoo and the 2 Nightingales. As usual, the loudest of these, though just a couple of metres from us remained resolutely hidden in bramble but, as I keep saying, with these birds it’s not the visual that makes them remarkable.

Everyone had plenty of opportunity to savour the unique resonance of this celebrated song, together with interlocution from another one not far off. Following the headline act the chorus tailed off more quickly than I expected and further on at “Nightingale Alley” not a bird was to be heard other than a Tawny Owl. In pines though we had been surprised by loud calls moving across the treetops – a protesting Hobby!